For Immediate Release
Sacramento, Calif., October 26, 2021 – Today, ActCoastal released the 2020 California Coastal Commission Conservation Report Card. This annual report card monitors the performance of the California Coastal Commission, an independent land-use state agency required by law to protect the coastal environment and ensure its accessibility for all Californians, by tracking conservation votes cast by individual commissioners. ActCoastal is a watchdog coalition formed by the Surfrider Foundation, the California Coastal Protection Network, Azul and Environment California. It produces the annual report card as a way to ensure transparency and accountability for decisions that affect California’s cherished coastline.
The 2020 Conservation Report Card indicates a 20 percent decline in votes by the California Coastal Commission for projects and issues that support coastal protection and access. The average conservation score for 2020 was 65%, which is down from 82% in 2019, and 88% in 2018. While the apparent decline in support for the environment among Coastal Commission members is due, in part, to a reduction in the total number of votes tallied as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decreased conservation scores may also reflect reduced vigilance by the state’s most important institution for coastal protections.
One of the focal issues for this year’s report card is coastal armoring, which protects private bluff-top properties at the expense of accelerated erosion of public beaches. Five of the seven votes that were tracked addressed shoreline armoring decisions. While the conservation outcomes were favorable, many of the votes were split and several Commissioners’ scores reflect votes that undermine coastal preservation.
“If we are to save our natural coastline, sandy beaches, rocky intertidal zones and precious remaining wetlands, and also advance the Governor’s call for the conservation of 30 percent of state lands and waters by 2030, California must commit to moving back from the immediate shoreline and allow the coast to migrate inland,” said Mandy Sackett, California Policy Coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation. “If our only response to sea level rise is to armor the coast, we will lose the state’s most iconic features, the publicly owned coastal spaces we love.”
Stronger conservation and equitable public access votes are needed now, more than ever, as sea level rise and continued coastal development combine to squeeze out California’s beaches and other coastal public lands. Andrea León-Grossmann, Director of Climate Action for Azul, called out the impact of these decisions on equitable beach access, which has become especially important as the number of coastal visitors significantly increased throughout the pandemic.
“The California Coastal Commission must defend the rights of all Californians - including inland and low-income communities - when protecting the coast from relentless development pressure, ill-considered industrial projects, rising seas and coastal armoring,” said Leon-Grossmann. “The coast is saved by every plan and permit, and it is lost in a death by a thousand cuts.”
The Conservation Report Card highlights some positive action with the Coastal Commission’s successful use of administrative penalty authority, granted by SB 861 in 2014. Since then, Coastal Commission enforcement staff members have resolved hundreds of public access violations with unprecedented speed, as the average enforcement resolution now only takes three to five months, compared to years or decades in the past. The Coastal Commission successfully applied this authority to the resolution of several cases in 2020, including access violations at Latigo Beach in Malibu and Newport Beach.
Based on the monthly voting charts found at ActCoastal, the Conservation Report Card focuses on high-stakes coastal development projects that often pit the interests of coastal developers against the concerns of the public in California, to whom the coast belongs.
“The work of protecting California’s extraordinary coastline is a never-ending struggle and we anticipate that the fight to protect it will only intensify with the acceleration of climate change,” said Susan Jordan, Executive Director of the California Coastal Protection Network. “This Vote Chart is designed as a barometer that tracks how well the state’s landmark law, the California Coastal Act, is being upheld against the forces that perpetually seek to weaken it. As we approach the 50th Anniversary of the California Coastal Conservation Act of 1972, we are reminded that we must remain vigilant for the decades and generations to come.”
“As sea levels rise due to climate change, preserving our coasts is becoming an increasingly important job - not only for the sake of California’s residents but also for seafaring creatures who inhabit our coastal waters,” said Meghan Hurley, Environment California Ocean Associate. “Whether it’s estuaries that serve as nurseries for ocean wildlife or beaches that are critical habitat for animals such as sea turtles and seabirds, we need to protect these vital areas. To do it right, the California Coastal Commission must rise to the challenge and ensure that we move back from the coast to mitigate the damage from rising seas.”
The full 2020 Conservation Report Card is available online at http://www.actcoastal.org/wiki/images/a/ab/ActCoastal_Report_Card_2020.pdf. For more information about the Coastal Commission’s record on conservation, visit ActCoastal.org.
About Surfrider Foundation
The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people, through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over one million supporters, activists and members, with more than 170 volunteer-led chapters and student clubs in the U.S., and more than 700 victories protecting our coasts. Learn more at surfrider.org.
Azul is a grassroots organization working with Latinxs to conserve coasts and oceans. It was founded in 2011 to bring Latinxs perspectives and participation to ocean conservation and has long advocated for environmental justice and equity in the state of California, across the nation and at international levels.
CALIFORNIA COASTAL PROTECTION NETWORK:
CCPN works to uphold the core tenets of the California Coastal Act actively and effectively through policy, advocacy and collaboration. We accomplish our mission by providing strong leadership to advance California’s 40-year legacy of coastal protection.
Environment California’s mission is to transform the power of our imaginations and our ideas into change that makes our world a greener and healthier place for all.